Tea gardens carry a very colonial image in my mind. British guys running the Tea estates, living in huge bungalows within the estate. A tea processing and packaging unit and a whole lot of workers plucking the fresh tea leaves with bamboo baskets on their backs.
Tea Gardens – Places to visit in Assam
To be an owner of a Tea Estate has always been aspirational for people. I think it still continues to be, though corporations rather than individuals now own most estates. The northeast part of India, particularly eastern Assam and the area around Darjeeling produces more than 20% of the world’s Tea. And it may not be wrong to call them the teaspoon of the world. I had seen some of these gardens earlier during my Kerala and Sri Lanka holidays.
But this is what I studied about Assam in school. In my mind, I had to visit them to know about them. These gardens here provide cups of Tea to the world on one hand. Employment and livelihood to many people on the other hand.
Harvesting the Leaf
Every one of these gardens is constantly being plucked for the fresh light green colored leaves on top of the plant. To be precise two leaves and a bud is plucked together for the best tea. An average worker can pluck anywhere between 60-80 kgs of leaves per day and gets paid about 2-3 Rs per kg. A basket can carry about 5 kgs of tea leaves and the leaves are weighed several times a day. They usually start their work early morning with the sun and work till it goes down, with one lunch break and two tea breaks.
An area is assigned to a group of workers by their supervisor every morning based on the sprouting of leaves. Yes, they work in a very organized manner even though they are not employed. And get paid for precisely the amount of work they do.
Most of the labor force comes from the states of Bihar and UP which have now settled down around these Tea estates. It was a pleasure to see them leaving in groups one evening, tired but looking forward to being back home.
I love the sight of these gardens, though the atmosphere around them is always hot and humid making it difficult to stand there for too long. The acres and acres of land were covered with tea plantations as if the earth was covered with a thick green carpet. The tall trees standing in between them provide shade to both the tea plants and to the workers working on them. Sometimes the vines of spice plants are wrapped around these tall trees, giving you multiple shades of green in one go.
The narrow lanes left for the leaves collectors to walk around looking like some abstract design. When the gardens are on a slope, they make the hillock look like women wearing a garment with heavy green embroidery.
Assam Tea Gardens
We saw these gardens in Tezpur, around Kaziranga, and in Jorhat. Tezpur was not on our itinerary, but we landed here, as the road to Arunachal was closed. There was no way we would be allowed to go there before the next day. This heritage property located in the midst of a tea estate had bungalows that were more than 100 years old. But maintained as if they have always been inhabited.
Tea Research Institute, Tocklai, Jorhat
Our tea sojourn could not have been complete without a visit to Tocklai in Jorhat, which is the world’s largest tea research institute. And does research on all aspects of tea, right from the soil that it grows in, to the way it is packaged and sold. It also comes out with new varieties of tea and new systems, methods, and processes for processing the tea. The Tocklai campus is beautiful, with some ponds full of lotus and lilies and numerous tall and small trees dotted with seasonal flowers. We could not see the tea museum as it was a holiday, but the campus itself was pleasing.
The last sight of these greeneries was through the train window while traveling from Jorhat to Guwahati. I think I will appreciate my cup of tea much more now that I have seen the hard work that goes into it…
Recommend you to read the following places to visit in Assam on this Travel Blog.